Boat Review by: Matt Spencer
In the boating industry a lot of times what you will find is if something is working for a manufacturer, then they are going to expand on it. This is the case with Bayliner and their first of its kind Element. First introduced as an entry level, 16-foot runabout, it had tremendous success. It was then stretched into an 18-foot model and an even larger “pontoon” style version - the XR-7.
Now they are changing the deck altogether and entering a new segment: the fishing market. So in this Boatdealers.ca digital test drive we will look at the 2016 Bayliner Element F18.
The first of its kind in the Bayliner family, the Element F18 is Bayliner’s first boat dedicated exclusively to fishing in most recent years. This isn’t an insane idea either considering it is part of the Brunswick Family of Boats which includes fishing legend Boston Whaler, along with some of the best aluminum fishing brands in the business. So there is lots in the family for the Bayliner to draw from when coming up with this new model.
The major noticeable change from the original Element to the F18 aside from its length is that the F18 is a center console. This style of boats is big down in the Gulf and is what’s known as a “Bay” or “Flats” boat. However it has just as much a place up at a cottage as well as center consoles are known for their space, functionality and fishability.
What’s not so noticeable is that Bayliner has raised the overall deck height 3 inches to give you a better vantage point when fishing. The best of which is going to be at the bow casting deck that basically spans the entire 7 and a half foot beam. The entire surface is non-skid and it’s pre-rigged to mount a 24v trolling motor. You will find access to both batteries in the two side by side storage compartments that are flush with the deck. Forward of that is another large storage locker as well.
Even though this is a fishing boat, it is still a Bayliner so the theme of storage continues as you move throughout the boat. Forward of the center console is a jump seat. This seat removes and you can put an optional second live-well here, or use it as storage. I would opt for the latter as the boat already has a live-well as we will soon find out. The under helm storage is a great spot to toss things like your safety kit and spare life jackets, stuff you won’t need all the time, but can get to at a moment’s notice.
A fishing boat has to have dedicated rod storage and the F18 has it in two different spots: there’s vertical storage on both sides of the helm, good for three rods each. Additionally there is gunnel rod storage, good for two rods each.
The helm on the Element F18 is clean and has plenty of room to add electronics. With it’s modest price tag, you may be able to spend a little extra on that graph you want since there is plenty of room to mount it behind the full windshield. This F18 had a full gauge package on it, tilt steering and a stainless steel grab handle that completely wraps the helm on each side. While I feel like the center console is nicely appointed, I think there would be room to add in some tackle storage built into it. It’s a small thing but would really solidify the F18’s place as a fishing boat.
The helm seat is a large bench seat that is attached to a large cooler. This cooler is going to be another great storage spot. Remember you can put anything in a cooler, not just bevys! You can also use it as an icebox for your catch.
The backrest on the helm bench can be put into three different positions. You can put it all the way back so you can sit on the seat and drive. You can put it in the middle position and use it like a leaning post should you wish to stand and drive and finally it can go all the way forward and you sit facing aft should you want to fish from here or simply just chill out and relax. At the stern the majority of the fishing is going to come from that large, rear casting platform. This is where you will find the 27-gallon live well on the F18.
When it’s time to put the rods away and have some fun, you will see that the two jump seats fold up and out of the rear casting platform. I love the simple engineering on these rear seats. It’s just a simple hinge that swings them open, the same as it would a storage locker, only with more support for leaning against. With the jump seats on this boat it makes sense that it also had the optional matte black ski tow bar that framed the Mercury Four Stroke, 115-hp outboard. Now that puts us into that Fish and Ski segment, which Bayliner knows very well. But again it’s worth noting that this isn’t a fish and ski boat. It’s a fishing boat that you could ski behind - there’s a difference.
From the waterline down, the F18 is an Element true and true because it has the Patent Pending M-hull. They call it that, because that’s exactly what it looks like. The M-hull carries two oversized chines from the bow all of the way to the stern and they share the running surface with a modified V in the center.
The origin of the M-hull was born through a survey of new boaters. When surveyed, new boaters expressed that they did not want a boat that dipped when you stepped into it. They also didn’t like when it banked into turned and finally they didn’t like a lot of bow rise. There are various hull shapes out there that counteract these running traits individually but it’s rare that you can find one to tackle them all, that was until the birth of the M-hull.
Having been at the launch of the original Element, I was already familiar with the M-hull but this was the first time I had got to drive the 18-foot version, so I was excited to see the difference now that it had been scaled up.
Having already spent the morning walking around the F18, checking out the various features I made a subconscious note about how stable it was at rest. Let me point out that on a good day I weigh 200 pounds. So when I say it’s stable, you know it’s getting put through the test, especially at that size of a boat.
Idling out to where it was safe to run the F18 at all speeds I immediately felt at home behind the helm. I opted to sit on the bench seat, although I’m sure some might opt to stand. Once I was clear, I put the throttle down for the Mercury 115-hp outboard and started to time how long it took the F18 to plane. Ready… 3 - 2 - 1 - GO! And done! Wait, what? It was almost instantly on plane! The bow rose ever so slightly and then settled into a comfortable run with minimal trim adjustments. The nature of the M-hull is so that those chines combined with the V will create instant lift and continue to as you increase speed, reducing the need for trim adjustments. Setting up for a turn I spun the wheel to the right and the nose started to go in that direction with minimal to no bank. It reacted the same way your car would if you were to turn right. So I then went from full lock turn right to full lock turn left and same thing, the boat shifted a bit as it changed directions, but other than that it remained flat and stable.
It reminded me how much fun I had testing the original Element when it first was launched in Sarasota, FL and this new F18 version was just as fun. The Mercury Outboards 115 Four Stroke was quiet and produced ample power. The F18 is rated for a max of 115 so you are more than likely going to see this packed with a 90, but we wanted to see what the top end was like. It cruised comfortably at 20 mph at 3500 rpm and 25 mph at 4000 rpm. Wide open throttle was an impressive 38 mph with one person on board. Throw a couple more on board and some gear and you will lose probably 5 - 8 mph but that’s fine. A boat like this that can do 30 mph all day is perfect for what it’s needed to do.
All in all I was impressed with the Element F18. It’s important to remember what the Element was originally launched to do - to make boating accessible to as many people as possible and the F18 is an extension of that. There are a ton of people out there who would identify themselves as a fisherman and not a boater. They love fishing boat getting out on the water is something that might be out of reach for them, until now. The F18 is a fun, stable, safe and easy to drive boat that has everything the entry level fishermen would want. But let’s not forget that it would make an excellent cottage runabout as well. It’s really a boat that can do it all!
For more information on this boat visit: Bayliner.com
|Dry weight:||1,607 lbs||729 kg|
|Fuel Capacity:||30 US gals||114 L|
|Base Engine / Drive:||Mercury Four Stroke Outboard|